White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, January 21, 2021 James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:03 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today. Many familiar faces from yesterday back again. We are pleased to have Dr. Fauci here with us as part of the President’s commitment to have public health experts lead our communication with the American people about the pandemic.
Just to give you a bit of a run of show here: Dr. Fauci will speak at the top about the state of the pandemic, the status of vaccines. He’ll take some of your questions. I will play the role of the bad cop when it’s time for him to go and get to the work of the American people. And then I will do a topper, and I’ll answer a bunch of your questions as well.
So, there’s lots to come after this. With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much. And I’m going to just spend a couple of minutes just summarizing the status of where we are and then maybe addressing some of the things that I know are on people’s minds.
So, first of all, obviously we are still in a very serious situation. I mean, to have over 400,000 deaths is something that, you know, is, unfortunately, historic in the very — in the very bad sense. When you look at the number of new infections that we have, it’s still at a very, very high rate. Hospitalizations are up. There are certain areas of the country, as I think you’re all familiar with, which are really stressed from the standpoint of beds, from the standpoint of the stress on the healthcare system.
However, when you look more recently at the seven-day average of cases — remember, we were going between 300,000 and 400,000, and 200,000 and 300,000. Right now, it looks like it might actually be plateauing in the sense of turning around.
Now, there’s good news in that, but you have to be careful that we may not be seeing perhaps an artifact — an artifact of the slowing down following the holidays. So when we see that, we think it’s real.
But one of the things — and it’s interesting — I’m, sort of, getting a deja vu standing up here, because I said something like this almost a little bit less than a year ago, when we were talking about the acceleration of cases in the late winter/early spring of 2020, when we were having New York City metropolitan area being the epicenter of what was going on — that there are always lags, so please be aware of that; that when you have cases, and then a couple of weeks later, you’ll see it represented in hospitalizations, intensive care, and then a couple of weeks later, in deaths.
So you have almost paradoxical curves, where you see something plateauing and may be coming down at the same time as hospitalizations and deaths might actually be going up.
So this is something that I just put on your radar screen. It is not an unusual thing to see that sort of thing.
The other point I want to make is one that we’re getting asked a lot regarding questions, and that is: What is it about these mutants that you’re hearing about — the mutants in the UK, which we know are in about 20-plus states; the mutants that we’re seeing in South Africa and in Brazil?
First of all, we need to understand that RNA viruses, like coronaviruses, mutate all the time. Most of the mutations don’t have any physiological relevance with regard to the function of the virus itself. However, every once in a while, you get mutations, either singly or clustered in combinations, which do have an impact.
So what have we learned thus far? And I want to emphasize “thus far” because we’re paying very, very careful attention to this, and we take it very seriously. At least from the experience that our colleagues in the UK have had, the one that is in the UK appears to have a greater degree of transmissibility — about twice as much as what we call the “wild type” original virus. The one that is in South Africa is a bit different, and I’ll get to that in a second.
So it does look like it increases the transmissibility. They say, correctly, on a one-to-one basis, it doesn’t seem to make the virus more virulent or have a greater chance of making you seriously ill or killing you. However, we shouldn’t be lulled into complacency about that, because if you have a virus that is more transmissible, you’re going to get more cases. When you get more cases, you’re going to get more hospitalizations. And when you get more hospitalizations, you’re ultimately going to get more deaths. So even though the virus, on a one-to-one basis, isn’t more serious, the phenomenon of a more transmissible virus is something that you take seriously.
The next thing is: Does it change enough to interfere with the efficacy of a whole group of monoclonal antibodies that many of you are aware of? The monoclonal antibodies that are being used for treatment, in some cases, and prevention. Since monoclonal antibodies bind to a very specific part of the virus, when there’s a mutation there, it has much greater chance of obliterating the efficacy of a monoclonal antibody. And we’re seeing in the much more concerning mutations that are in South Africa — and in some respects, Brazil, which is similar to South Africa — that it is having an effect on the monoclonal antibodies.
The real question that people are quite clearly interested in is: What is the impact on the vaccine? And, so far, literally, we have this new phenomenon that a preprint journals, where — where people get data, and they put it into a preprint server where it hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, but you have to pay attention to it because it gives you good information quickly. Ultimately, it gets confirmed.
And we’re seeing them coming out over the last few days, and what they’re saying is that what we likely will be seeing is a diminution — more South Africa than UK — UK — is that diminution in what would be the efficacy of the vaccine-induced antibodies.
Now, that does not mean that the vaccines will not be effective, and let me explain why. There’s a thing called a “cushion effect.” So, if you have a vaccine, like the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine, that can suppress the virus at a dilution, let’s say, of 1 to 1,000, and the mutant influences it by bringing it down to maybe 1 to 800, or something like that, you’re still well above the line of not being effective. So there’s that “cushion” that even though it’s diminished somewhat, it still is effective. That’s what we’re seeing, both certainly with the UK, which is very minimal effect. We’re following very carefully the one in South Africa, which is a little bit more concerning, but nonetheless, not something that we don’t think that we can handle.
What is the message? Because someone can say, “Now, wait a minute — if you have the possibility that the vaccines are diminishing in their impact, why are we vaccinating people?” No. It is all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can. Because as long as the virus is out there replicating — viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate. And if you can suppress that by a very good vaccine campaign, then you could actually avoid this deleterious effect that you might get from the mutations.
Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it. There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That is not something that is a very onerous thing. We can do that given the platforms we have. But right now, from the reports we have — literally, as of today — it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them, with the caveat in mind you want to pay close attention to it.
So, Jen, why don’t I just stop there and then maybe just answer some questions on anything else that I said?
Q How helpful would it have been if Amazon got involved with the federal response to COVID-19 before Biden took office? And do you know about any plans or discussions ahead of yesterday?
DR. FAUCI: No, I don’t think I could answer that question. I’d be waving my hands about that. Sorry.
But, you know, one of the new things in this administration is: If you don’t have the answer, don’t guess; just say you don’t know the answer. (Laughter.)
Q Dr. Fauci —
DR. FAUCI: Yes.
Q Dr. Fauci, a couple of questions, if I might. I’d like to follow up with you on what you just said about this strain in South Africa. Has that strain made its way to the United States? And what, if any, concerns do you have? How much do we understand about it?
DR. FAUCI: Great question. Thus far, it does not appear at all that the South African strain is in the United States. However, we must be honest and say that the level of comprehensive sequence surveillance thus far is not at the level that we would have liked. So we’re going to be looking very, very carefully for it. But given the information we have today, it doesn’t appear that the South African strain is here.
Q Okay. And if I could just ask you about the effort to distribute the vaccines, because, of course, that’s what most people want to know: when are they going to get a vaccine. Is the Biden administration starting from scratch with the vaccine distribution effort, or are you picking up where the Trump administration left off?
DR. FAUCI: No, I mean, we certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution.
But if you look at the plan that the President has put forth about the things that he’s going to do — namely, get community vaccine centers up, get pharmacies more involved; where appropriate, get the Defense Production Act involved, not only perhaps with getting more vaccine, but even the things you need to get a good vaccine program — for example, needles and syringes that might be more useful in that. So it’s taking what’s gone on, but amplifying it in a big way.
Q President Biden said that what was left was “abysmal,” essentially. Is there anything actionable that you are taking from the previous administration to move it forward?
DR. FAUCI: Well —
Q And is that delaying your efforts to get the vaccine? I mean, that’s the question that —
DR. FAUCI: No, I mean, we’re coming in with fresh ideas, but also some ideas that were not bad ideas with the — with the previous administration. You can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all. So we are continuing, but you’re going to see a real ramping-up of it.
Q One more final question. You had said that most people will be vaccinated by the middle of 2021. Is that still your expectation?
DR. FAUCI: Yes, it is. I mean, I believe that the goal that was set by the President of getting 100 million people vaccinated in the first hundred days is quite a reasonable goal.
And when you get to the point — and one of the things that I think is something we need to pay attention to — and I, quite frankly, have been spending a considerable amount of my own time — is outreaching particularly to minority communities to make sure that you get them to be vaccinated and you explain why it’s so important for themselves, their family, and their community.
If we get 70 to 85 percent of the country vaccinated — let’s say by the end of the summer, middle of the summer — I believe by the time we get to the fall, we will be approaching a degree of normality. It’s not going to be perfectly normal, but one that I think will take a lot of pressure off the American public.
Q Dr. Fauci, you’re one of the few holdovers from the previous administration to this current one. What has been your experience with this new team? And, in your view, what would have been different, in terms of the trajectory of this outbreak from the start, had a team like this been in place at the beginning?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I can tell you my impression of what’s going on right now — the team. I’m — I don’t know if I can extrapolate other things.
But one of the things that was very clear as recently as about 15 minutes ago, when I was with the President, is that one of the things that we’re going to do is to be completely transparent, open, and honest. If things go wrong, not point fingers, but to correct them. And to make everything we do be based on science and evidence.
I mean, that was literally a conversation I had 15 minutes ago with the President, and he has said that multiple times.
Q Is there anything that you, looking back on your comments of the last 10 or 12 months, would like to now, with that sort of license, to amend or clarify?
DR. FAUCI: No. I mean, I always said everything on the ba- — that’s why I got in trouble sometimes. (Laughter.)
Q You mentioned pharmacies. The new CDC director said today that the goal of getting vaccinations into pharmacies by the end of next month isn’t realistic, as had been previously suggested. When will most Americans be able to get a vaccination in their neighborhood pharmacy?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I’m — I didn’t hear that comment. Are you talking about Dr. Welensky’s comment? I didn’t hear that comment, so I don’t really want to comment on the comment. But what she may be saying is that for many people in this country who don’t have access to a pharmacy, they may not be able to utilize getting things in the pharmacy.
I — I’m not sure; I want to be careful because I’m not sure that’s what she said.
We just had a conversation about how we’re going to get vaccines to people who are in pharmacy-desert areas, where they don’t have easy access to a pharmacy. And that’s something we’re working on and taking very seriously.
Q But just to be clear: If you are in an area where you do have access to a CVS or a Walgreens —
DR. FAUCI: Right.
Q — when will you be able to get access to this vaccine —
DR. FAUCI: You know —
Q — like you would a flu vaccine?
DR. FAUCI: You know, in the spirit of not guessing, I really — I’m not quite sure when that will be, but we can get back to you on that.
Q And just on the broader timeline: You mentioned the fall. We just heard the President say, you know, the brutal truth is that it is going to be several more months. Just to be clear, you’re saying by the fall, the majority of Americans —
DR. FAUCI: No.
Q — you think will be vaccinated?
DR. FAUCI: No, I didn’t say that. I said if we get the majority of Americans — 70 to 85 percent — vaccinated by then, we could have a degree of herd immunity that would get us back to normal.
The concern I have, and something we’re working on, is getting people who have vaccine hesitancy, who don’t want to get vaccinated — because many people are skeptical about that. So we really need to do a lot of good outreach for that.
I mean, I don’t know what the best case — the best case scenario, if it were for me, is that we’d get 85 percent of the people vaccinated by the end of the summer. If we do, then by the time we get to the fall, I think we can approach a degree of normality.
Q Dr. Fauci, on the mutations that you were talking about, a question about how exactly they increase transmissibility. Does it take less exposure time to get it? Or does it —
DR. FAUCI: No, no. What it is is that you can do in vitro in a test tube setting, binding an affinity to the receptors, which you have in your nose, in your lung, in your GI tract. The receptor for the virus is called an “ACE2 receptor.” And the facility or affinity with which a virus binds to that means that it very likely will have a better efficiency of infection and replicate more in the nasopharynx. So that’s how you make that determination in the test tube.
Then you look epidemiologically, and you’ll see a spike — going up in the sense of number of cases — and they sort of match each other. A virus that has the ability to easily bind to and replicate with your receptors is one that likely will spread easier.
Q So it doesn’t mean that you’d have more viral load. You —
DR. FAUCI: Well, you could. Yes. In fact, it would mean — because if it binds more easily, it could replicate in the nasopharynx more easily, and it is likely that you would have a higher viral load.
Q So does it make masks less effective in that case?
DR. FAUCI: No, it makes it the reason why you absolutely should be wearing a mask. It doesn’t necessarily make it less effective. If you properly wear a mask, then you’ll be okay.
Q And then, on the UK strain, do you have any data on how widespread that strain is in the United States?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I think it’s in at least 20 states that people have mentioned. Exactly — the real question that’s going to be asked: Is it going to become the dominant strain, or will the strains we already have prevented from flourishing and being the more dominant strain? But it is here, for sure.
Q Just a follow-up on vaccines. Some state and local authorities are saying that they would be able to distribute more vaccines if they had more. Is the Biden administration now trying to increase production by Moderna and Pfizer in the next six weeks?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, as well as to utilize what we hope will be another player in the field: the J&J, Janssen, as well as other of the companies. But also, as the — as the President has said in his plan, to do whatever he can to expand the availability of vaccines, whatever that is. I mean, he said that he’s going to just use every possibility, including the Defense Production Act.
Q And can you explain the discrepancy between what some states are saying about needing more vaccines and the CDC saying that a lot of vaccine is still remaining on people’s — or on their shelves?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, you know, I think that that is something that we need to really take a close look at because that is sort of an inconsistent discrepancy, and one of the things we want to do is to find out why that’s the case. And if it is the case — particularly the thing that would be most disturbing: if there’s vaccine laying around, and people are not using it when others would need it.
But I don’t know the answer to that question, but we need to look into it.
Q Dr. Fauci, you’ve joked a couple times today already about the difference that you feel in being kind of the spokesperson for this issue in this administration versus the previous one. Can you — can you talk a little bit about how free, how much different — do you feel less constrained?
What is the — you know, I mean, you — for so many times, you stood up behind the podium with Donald Trump standing behind you. That was a different — that was a different feeling, I’m sure, than it is today. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel kind of released from what you had been doing for the last year?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, but you said I was joking about it. I was very serious — (laughs) — about it. I wasn’t joking.
No, actually, I mean — I mean, obviously, I don’t want to be going back, you know, over history, but it was very clear that there were things that were said — be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that — that really was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact.
I can tell you I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the President, so it was really something that you didn’t feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn’t be any repercussions about it.
The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is, and know that’s it — let the science speak — it is somewhat of a liberating feeling.
Q I mean, you were basically banished for a few months there for a while. (Laughter.) Do you feel like you’re back now?
DR. FAUCI: I think so. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s Mike Shear, if you don’t want to take questions from him in the future. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Dr. Fauci, so much for joining us. We really appreciate it, and we’ll have him back again.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you everyone. As I promised, we’ll have a full briefing from here.
So, as you know, just a few moments ago, the President also released a national COVID-19 strategy and signed 10 executive orders and other directives to move quickly to contain the crisis.
Underpinning everything the President signed today and everything we do every day will be equity. Some highlights of those actions include an executive order to fill supply shortfalls for vaccinations, testing, and PPE. The President directed agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities, including the Defense Production Act; to accelerate manufacturing and delivering of supplies, such as N95 masks, gowns, gloves, PCR swabs, test reagents, and necessary equipment and material for the vaccine.
The President also signed:
a presidential memorandum to increase federal reimbursement to states and tribes for the cost of National Guard personnel, emergency supplies, and the personnel and equipment needed to create vaccination centers
an executive order that established a COVID-19 pandemic testing board to bring the full force of the federal government’s expertise to expanding testing supply and increasing access to testing
an executive order to bolster access to COVID-19 treatments and clinical care, establishing a comprehensive and coordinated preclinical drug discovery and development program to allow therapeutics to be evaluated and developed in response to pandemic threats.
Sorry, I had to clear my throat; there’s a lot here.
He also issued:
an executive order directing the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance on safe reopening and operating for schools, childcare providers, and institutions of higher education
an executive order on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to immediately release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure
an executive order to require mask wearing in airports or certain modes of public transportation, including many trains, airplanes, maritime vessels, and intercity buses
and an executive order establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force — something we had previously announced, but making it official today — to provide specific recommendations to the President for allocating resources and funding in communities with inequities in COVID-19 outcomes by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, and other considerations.
These steps, of course, build on the actions we announced yesterday. I had an additional update. Some of you may have seen this come out through last — late last night. But I wanted to share with you that, as a result of one of the executive orders President Biden signed yesterday, the Acting Homeland Security Secretary issued a memorandum to review and reset immigration enforcement priorities.
For 100 days, beginning tomorrow, the Department of Homeland Security will pause removals for certain individuals. This pause will allow the administration to review and reset enforcement policies and ensure that resources are dedicated to the most pressing challenges, and that we have a fair and effective enforcement system rooted in responsibly managing the border and protecting our national security and public safety.
I had one other item I just wanted to flag for you about something the First Lady is up to. Let me see if I can find that, or I will circle back to it a little bit later.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions. Zeke, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Jen. There was some reporting earlier today about the President’s commitment to extending New START. Can you talk about what the President’s directive on that front has been?
Additionally, did he — can you confirm that the President requested reports from the new DNI for an assessment on potential foreign interference in the 2020 election, and then also the SolarWinds hack?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I can confirm that the United States intends to seek a five-year extension of New START, as the treaty permits. The President has long been clear that the New START Treaty is in the national security interests of the United States. And this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial, as it is at this time.
New START is the only remaining treaty constraining Russian nuclear forces and is an anchor of strategic stability between our two countries.
And to the other part of your question: Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so too we work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversarial actions. And to this end, the President is also issuing a tasking to the intelligence community for its full assessment of the SolarWinds cyber breach, Russian interference in the 2020 election, its use of chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
So that’s hopefully answered all of it. That was a mouthful.
Q And just changing gears for a quick second to COVID and the negotiations on Capitol Hill: How long is the President willing to pursue bipartisanship? Democrats are already talking about a reconciliation process. Is there a — given the critical need for some sort of aid here that the President is talking about, is there a deadline at which he’s going to — he’s giving Republicans — you know, is it February 1st, is it Presidents weekend — by which he’ll say, “No, we’re going to do this by reconciliation instead”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to set any deadlines on our first full day in office, but I will say hopefully I’ll have more for all of you on this tomorrow.
We are going to be increasing our engagements; it’s already been ongoing, even before the President was inaugurated yesterday. But hopefully, we’ll have more to share with you tomorrow on meetings, engagements, discussions that will be going on with leaders on Capitol Hill and many members over the course of the next several days.
As I conveyed to all of you yesterday, his preference and priority is a bipartisan package and working with members of both parties to come to agreement on that, because he believes that the crises facing the American people — as we saw, the jobs numbers this morning, the unemploy — unemployment insurance claims, I should say — we put out a statement by our NEC director, in case you didn’t see that; as we’ve seen in the reports from Dr. Fauci just a few minutes ago, this is — this crisis is dire, and it requires immediate action, and we hope and expect members of both parties to work together to do that.
We’re also not going to take options off the table. So, we’ll proceed with those discussions over the next couple of days.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Hi, Jen. If I could just follow up on that. There was some reporting that there was going to be a meeting this weekend with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Can you give us any indication — is that going to happen with President Biden or with his economic team? Is that your expectation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the reporting was around a meeting with NEC Director Brian Deese. I spoke with him earlier today; he is definitely going to be engaging with a range of members and a range of different groups of members from Capitol Hill in the coming days. I think we were still working to confirm specific meetings before I came out here, and I hope to have more for all of you on that by tomorrow.
Q Okay. And more broadly speaking, Jen, President Biden has proposed this 1.9-trillion-dollar package. You already have some Republicans who say, “We just passed a stimulus plan.” They’re not going to get on board with this — Mitt Romney among them, who says, “We just passed a program with over $900 billion.” And some people say the price tag is just way too big. So how does President Biden expect to get this passed with bipartisan support? And how does that fit into his broader message of bipartisanship, proposing something like this that’s that big?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it fits perfectly into his message of bipartisanship. He wants to work with Democrats and Republicans to address the crises that the American people are facing, whether they live in red states or blue states or Democratic — Democrats or Republicans.
The package was designed based on recommendations from health experts, from economists. It’s been applauded by everyone from Senator Bernie Sanders to the Chamber of Commerce. And there are specific pieces in there that are meant to serve as a bridge for the American people, including a large percentage of it that’s for unemployment insurance; funding for vaccine distribution — something that is pivotal, as we’ve already been discussing here today; for reopening of schools.
So part of the discussion we’ll be having with members is, “What do you want to cut?” And this is a plan that he feels addresses the crisis at the moment.
Q And one quick follow-up on that. The work of the Senate is being held up by this dispute over the filibuster. Where does President Biden come down on that? Does he think that there should not be a filibuster so that the Senate can move forward with its work?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President-elect spoke just yesterday, as you all saw, about the spirit of working together and bipartisanship to confront the four crises facing us.
You’ve already seen him work with Republicans and Democrats and work toward a bipartisan approach to passing packages that will address the crises we’re facing. And that certainly is his priority and his preference. So that’s what he’ll continue to work on on day two of the administration.
Go ahead, Mike Shear.
Q Okay. See? You can call on me. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I just gave you a hard time. Go ahead.
Q That’s fine. So I want to push you a little bit more on that question. Like if there’s this call for unity that the President made in his speech yesterday, but there has so far been almost no fig leaf even to the Republican Party. You don’t have a Republican Cabinet member, like President Obama and, I think, President Clinton had. You — you know, the executive orders that he’s come out the gate have been largely designed at erasing as much of the Trump legacy as you can with executive orders, much of which the Republican Party likes and agrees with. You’ve put forth an immigration bill that has a path to citizenship but doesn’t do much of a nod towards the border security. And you’ve got a 1.9-trillion-dollar COVID relief bill that has, as folks have said, already drawn all sorts of criticism. Where is the — where is the actual action behind this idea of bipartisanship?
And when are we going to see one of those, you know, sort of, substantial outreaches that says, “This is something that, you know, the Republicans want to do, too”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I guess what I would send back to you — there’s a lot in there, so let me do my best here.
But, Mike, is unemployment insurance only an issue that Democrats in the country want? Do only Democrats want their kids to go back to schools? Do only Democrats want vaccines to be distributed across the country? That’s — we feel that that package — he feels that package is designed for bipartisan support.
I will also say that we have also had some positive developments on our confirmations and our nominees. Last night, as you all saw, his — the President’s nominee, now confirmed, leader — first female leader of the intelligence community was confirmed with a vote of 85 to 10, 84 to 10 — you can check me on that — but an overwhelming vote. We’ve seen progress today on the nomination and hopeful confirmation of Lloyd Austin.
So there is movement, supported by both sides of the aisle and members of both parties.
I think if you talk to Democrats — or Republicans on the Hill, which I know many of you do, they will say they’re not looking for something symbolic. They are looking for engagement. They’re looking to have a conversation. They’re looking to have a dialogue. And that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q On that, has the President reached out to congressional leaders to sit down and discuss this relief package? Will he be? How much personal involvement is he going to have in this process?
MS. PSAKI: I expect he will be rolling up his sleeves and will be quite involved in this process, Mary. And he was — yesterday was quite a busy day for him. As you all know, his schedule was minute by minute, and his family was here. But he was involved even before yesterday, having conversations with members of both parties — picking up the phone and having those conversations. He saw, of course, members of both parties. He invited leaders from both parties to join him at church. Obviously, that wasn’t really a discussion about specifics of the bill, but they did — he did have an opportunity to talk about his agenda and working to forward — working together on his agenda moving forward.
But I think you will see him quite involved in the days ahead, but you will also see the Vice President quite involved. You will also see policy leaders, like Brian Deese and others in the administration, quite involved in having conversations with both Democrats and Republicans.
Q But no plans right now to sit down with them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we will have more to share with you soon in terms of engagement of many of our senior officials with members of both parties.
Q And on the Defense Production Act, just to be clear, has the administration actually invoked the Defense Production Act? And, if so, can you spell out what changes we may see because of this? Which companies are being asked to make what?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a very specific example that helped really make it clear for me. One area is to acquire a more lo- — low dead volume syringes. And what that does is, these specialized syringes allow pharmacists and vaccinators to extract an extra dose of the Pfizer vial — so making more doses available, of course.
It also prioritizes the Defense Production Act raw materials that are used to produce the vaccine, so reducing bottlenecks. And it enables manufacturers — us to empower and invoke, I guess, an action for manufacturers to make sure we have the materials we need to get the vaccines out the door and in the arms of Americans.
In terms of — obviously, he signed it this afternoon. I’ll have to just circle back with you on what it — if it’s officially invoked in this moment, or if it takes some time. And we can we can circle back with you after the briefing.
Go ahead, Jen.
Q On stimulus, is the White House drafting a legislative bill?
MS. PSAKI: You mean in terms of the — what he announced last week — last Thursday? Well, he announced what his specific ideas will be and what his vision is, but right now we’re having discussions with members of both parties, as we have for the last week about what that will look like.
Q Okay, so, no bill draft coming out of the White House is what I’m saying.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy to talk to our legislative team about that. I think what was important to the President was to outline what his vision would be. This is how the process should actually work. Right? The President outlines, “Here’s my vision. Here’s what I think should be in a package. Let’s have discussions. Let’s have engagements with both parties, and let’s see what comes out of the sausage-making at the other side.”
Go ahead, Anita. I’ll come back to you. I’m sorry, (inaudible). Go ahead.
Q Just following up on what Kristen asked, I don’t think I heard an answer about whether the President supports keeping the filibuster — where he sits on that. Has he has he talked to Senator Schumer about that? I mean, he served there a long time. What are his thoughts on that?
MS. PSAKI: I think what I was conveying to Kristen is that the President has been clear: He wants to work with members of both parties and find bipartisan paths forward. And I don’t have any more conversations to read out for you at this point in time.
Q Okay, but that doesn’t specifically answer that, unless I’m not understanding your answer.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have more — more to add to my answer.
Q Okay. And then just on the impeachment trial, I know that there was some talk about, sort of, the Senate doing both — both things at the same time, two things at once. There’s some reporting this afternoon that Republicans are pushing to have the impeachment trial start in February. Where do you all stand, still, now on that? Are you still looking for that — both paths to happen at the same time? Would it be preferable to do that first or are you okay with later, as some Republicans are talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Anita, I think we — we have been pretty consistent that we believe the timing and the mechanisms for the Congress and the Senate moving forward in holding the former President accountable — we’ll leave that to them. And what our biggest priority and focus is, is ensuring that it doesn’t delay the Senate, Congress moving forward in consideration and discussion around the COVID-relief package that the President proposed last week.
Q Thank you, Jen. As the print pooler, I have a question for myself, and then a question for someone who cannot be here —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — because of the social distancing policies.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q My question is this, and it’s about unity again. I’ve heard from conservatives who are afraid that the President is going to try to pull back religious conscience exemptions for groups like Little Sisters of the Poor. The President pledged he would so that in July when the Little Sisters won the — a case in the Supreme Court. The Health and Humans Services nominee, Xavier Becerra, pursued that line of going after the exemptions as Attorney General of California. What’s the President going to do on that?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t discussed that particular issue with him. I’m happy to circle back with you, but I don’t — there’s not a change in his position from what he said earlier this summer.
Did you have another question?
Q Yes, I have a question from Adam Longo of WUSA 9. He says, “We saw the President warmly greet Mayor Bowser during the parade yesterday. She is pushing for the D.C. Statehood Measure to be on the President’s desk within 100 days. Will the administration get behind this bill, and does the President support it?”
MS. PSAKI: I hate to disappoint you, but I will have to circle back with you on that as well. There is quite a bit going on. I have not discussed D.C. statehood with him in the last 36 hours.
Q I will look forward to hearing about it. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay, sounds great.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Yeah. Thanks, Jen. I wanted to circle back on something COVID-related. I know the President has obviously made a priority of getting — resuming in-person learning in the first 100 days. I wondered: Is the administration planning to issue any kind of uniform guidance to states on — you know, whether it’s reopening schools, reopening businesses, indoor dining, stuff like that? Or are you all planning to just kind of leave it to states to do, sort of, a patchwork based on their own situations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as Dr. Fauci conveyed, our objective is to ensure that health and medical experts are leading the effort in delivering guidance — determining guidance and also communicating it with the public whenever possible. And any guidance would come, of course, as you know, from the CDC. We — and we will — we will, of course, defer to that.
But part of our priority and our focus here is on providing more engagement with states, more clear guidance from the federal level in terms of how we’re planning to operate, what data we’re seeing, how the — how vaccines are being distributed, what we see as the challenges. And that communication has been lacking, as we understand it from our conversations in the past few months. So that is what we will focus on improving in the months ahead.
Q So how would you — specifically, are you planning to do, you know, daily or weekly calls with states? Or how — how are you planning to up the communication there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a — an entire COVID team, as you know, who are now — most of them are official. And part of their role will be engaging with governors — Democrats and Republicans — mayors, local elected officials to gain a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground. That will be how they’re going to be intaking a great deal of information — obviously, healthcare providers and experts on the ground as well.
We will also do engagement from the level of the President and the Vice President as well, because they also want to have that conversation with states and local officials on what they’re experiencing, what they see the challenges as, and how they can be addressed.
And, you know, that’s something — I think, in President Biden’s heart, he is a local elected official still, and he gets into the weeds of what they’re experiencing. And I — and he will be involved in that himself.
Go ahead, in the way back.
Q Thanks, Jen. There’s a lot of really big things that the administration wants to do: infrastructure, the stimulus, tax reform. Can you sort of lay out the cadence for us over the upcoming year? How do you envision those three major things playing out? What’s the order? When do you think those will be taken up? When will they happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I can lay out for you on our first full day here is what our initial priorities are. And they revolve around addressing the four crises that the President has stated that the country is facing, including getting the pandemic under control, getting people back to work, addressing our climate crisis, and addressing racial equity. And so —
Q Do you —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q No, I — I was going to ask you: Do you think tax reform happens in 2021?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t really have any predictions for you on that. I — I think, at this point in time and for the foreseeable future, addressing the pandemic, getting the pandemic under control, and that linkage to getting people back to work will be his top priority.
Q And on the Keystone XL — the decision yesterday from the President — what would you say to those who have lost their job or will lose their job as a result of that decision? What will the message from the President and the White House be?
MS. PSAKI: The message of the President and the White House would be that he is committed. His record will show — shows the American people that he’s committed to clean-energy jobs — to jobs that are not only good, high-paying jobs, union jobs, but ones that are also good for our environment. He thinks it’s possible to do both.
He led an effort when he was the Vice President to put millions of people to work with those — both of those priorities in mind, and he will continue to do that as President. But he had opposed the Keystone pipeline back in 2013, when it was — when there was a consideration of the permit, or — sorry, I don’t think it was 2013; I think it was a little bit after that. And he has been consistent in his view, and he was delivering on a promise he made to the American public during the campaign.
Go ahead, all the way in the back.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask you about India-U.S. relationship. What is President Biden’s vision of India-U.S relationship — the relationship between the world’s oldest and world’s largest democracy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that President Biden, who of course has visited India many times, respects and values the long, bipartisan, successful relationship between leaders in India and the United States. He looks forward to a continuation of that.
Obviously, he selected — and yesterday, she was sworn in — the first Indian American to serve as President or Vice President, certainly a historic moment for all of us in this country, but a further, you know, cementing of the importance of our relationship.
So, go ahead, George.
Q Yeah, thanks. Two questions, if I could — one on the — on the Hatch Act: Will this administration take that seriously? And do you think it’s ever appropriate for this White House to have a political event or a political meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, there are some political events that are acceptable, but we certainly take the Hatch Act seriously, and we’ll abide by that. And you will not see a political rally on the South Lawn of the White House with Pres- — under President Biden.
Q The second one — this — this may sound trivial, but Presidents and candidates have some events where — they’re fun for the candidate. They — the big crowd on the acceptance speech at the convention, the big crowd at the Inauguration, big rallies. Because of COVID, this President has — has been denied all those. Has he ever been at all wistful about sort of missing the fun parts of being a candidate and the Inauguration?
MS. PSAKI: Not — not in front of me, George. I will say that, even yesterday or over the last couple of days, you know, he tried to find a moment of joy with his family and with his grandchildren, who bring him great — a great deal of joy, and a recognition of, of course, the great responsibility he has on his shoulders, but a moment in history that he was playing a very important part of.
So I would say he’s been in public office, as you all know, for decades, and he’s had many joyful moments. But this moment, serving as President, coming in at a crisis where thousands of people are dying from a pandemic every day, millions of people are out of work, is not really a time for daily joy as the leader of the free world. And he’s focused on doing his job to get the work done for the American people.
Q Why weren’t President Biden and all members of the Biden family masked at all times on federal lands last night, if he signed an executive order that mandates masks on federal lands at all times?
MS. PSAKI: At the Inaugural –-
Q At the Lincoln Memorial. Yes.
MS. PSAKI: I think, Steve, he was celebrating an evening of a historic day in our country. And certainly he signed the mask mandate because it’s a way to send a message to the American public about the importance of wearing masks, how it can save tens of thousands of lives.
We take a number of COVID precautions, as you know here, in terms of testing, social distancing, mask wearing ourselves, as we do every single day. But I don’t know that I have more for you on it than that.
Q But as Joe Biden often talks about, it is not just important the “example of power” but the “power of our example.” Was that a good example for people who are watching who might not pay attention normally?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Steve, I think the power of his example is also the message he sends by signing 25 executive orders, including almost half of them related to COVID; the requirements that we’re all under every single day here to ensure we’re sending that message to the public.
Yesterday was a historic moment in our history. He was inaugurated as President of the United States. He was surrounded by his family. We take a number of precautions, but I don’t think — I think we have big — bigger issues to worry about at this moment in time.
Go ahead, Anita.
Q You mentioned –-
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry, Jeff. Let me go to Jeff, Anita, because I already went to you, if that’s okay.
Q Jeff, go ahead.
Q Thanks very much. A follow-up on the New START: Do you have an indication from Russia that they will object to the extension of five years? And has the United States already alerted Moscow about its desire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not –- obviously, as you know, a number of our nominees have talked about our intention, during their confirmation hearings over the past couple of days, of extending New START. I don’t have any calls to read out for you, but I can check and see if any notifications or discussions have happened this afternoon.
Q And to follow up on something from yesterday, which I think you referred to: President Biden had said that President Trump left him a very “generous” note, and he didn’t want to talk about it until he spoke to President Trump. Are President Biden and President — former President Trump going to have a call?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no call planned. What he was conveying is that he didn’t want to release a private note without having agreement from the former President. But I wouldn’t say he’s seeking it through a phone call; he just was even trying to be respectful in that moment of a private letter that was sent.
Q With regard to the former President, has President Biden spoken to Speaker Pelosi at all about the timing of when she plans to bring the impeachment articles to the Senate and how he would like to see this trial proceed?
MS. PSAKI: President Biden has been pretty clear about what the focus of his conversations are and what his intention is with his engagements with leaders from both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress, including with Speaker Pelosi — someone he’s known for quite some time — and that is his intention and focus on getting the COVID package through. So he will leave it to her and to now-Leader Schumer to determine what the path forward and the timeline will be in holding the former President accountable.
Anita, go back to you.
Q Yeah, you earlier mentioned four priorities of the President. I was surprised to not hear immigration, per se, in that because, yesterday, many of the executive orders were about immigration. And there were two major agency releases last night about immigration; the bill is being introduced today. Do you not see that as sort of the second big push after the COVID bill? Where do you see that?
And I guess I would say, why is it — I was going to ask you, why is it going to be — you know, why is it such a priority after the COVID bill? But you didn’t even list it, so I wanted to kind of clarify that and get your thoughts on it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t read into that, other than immigration we consider as part of “racial equity” and part of — which is a broad issue, but that’s how the President has spoken about that crisis over the past several months. And clearly it is an enormous priority to him because he — we moved forward in announcing the specifics of an immigration bill — an immigration package he is eager to move forward on with Congress on his first day in office.
But, as you know, there has been a lot of history on efforts to do comprehensive immigration reform — to do any form of immigration reform. And what we’re hopeful is that this will be a moment of reset and a moment to restart discussions on Capitol Hill. There are already a number of co-sponsors who have been announced to have those discussions. There are experts on immigration who have worked on this issue on both sides of the aisle.
Historically, it is an issue there — that there is bipartisan support — support from the business community, support from a range of outside groups with different political tilts — and we’re hopeful that that will help propel it forward.
Q Senator Menendez said today on a call — he called it a “Herculean,” you know, effort to get this through. As you know, it hasn’t gone through, as you just mentioned before. I mean, there are Republicans grumbling today that there’s not more in that bill that they want to see. So is that bill — what do you think the prospect of that bill getting through is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that I can predict that the first day. I mean, it’s only been out for 24 hours. But what was important to the President in the outline of this bill is that it is addressing a couple of areas that he doesn’t feel have been effectively done in the past. The last four years, the immigration policy has been based around funding for a wall; that has not worked even to keep the country safer, even to keep bad actors out.
And so his approach is multi-pronged. It is to do smart security — security that will help address and use technology to address key border crossings, address ports of entry more effectively and efficiently, and putting that oversight in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. It will also help address root causes of migration, and that hasn’t been in past bills. As you probably well know, Anita, it was not in the bill in 2013, but it’s something that he has been an advocate for in his time in public office.
And it also has a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the country. There are components here in the bill that address a lot of the issues that have not been addressed in the past. And certainly the components of it that make — that talk about smart security, are the kind of border security that we think is essential and more effective than what we’ve seen over the past couple of years.
Go ahead. Oh, can I go to Zeke first and then to you, Kristen? Go ahead.
Q I just wanted to follow up on a question I asked the President an hour or so ago about the “100 million vaccines in the first 100 days” target. That’s roughly of the per diem basis of where the vaccinations are right now. Can you just elaborate a little bit why the President isn’t setting the bar a little bit higher, maybe require another nudge? Just to explain to the American people when they see the statistics — like, you know, one tracker had 1.6 million yesterday — why isn’t the President shooting just a little bit higher, given the magnitude of the crisis here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, none of us are mathematicians, myself included, so I asked our team to do a little math on this. So, the Trump administration was given 36 million doses when they were in office for 38 days. They administered a total of about 17 million shots. That’s about less than 500,000 shots a day. What we’re proposing is to double that to about 1 million shots per day. And we have outlined this goal and objective in coordination and consultation with our health and medical experts.
So it is ambitious. It’s something that we feel is bold and was called that certainly at the time, and we’re working overtime to help to achieve it — try to achieve it.
Q But is the President trying to — obviously, he would try to exceed that if possible. Is it possible we may see, you know, in a couple of weeks or a month that the President would up that goal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Zeke, there are a lot of factors that go into determining how many shots can get into the arms of Americans. We feel confident we can achieve this goal. Obviously, there are other vaccines that are being considered at this point in time by the FDA. There is funding that will be needed for distribution. There are a number of steps that will help expedite, at some point in time. But, right now, our focus is on what many health and medical experts have consistently called a “bold” goal.
I will note also that some of the reporting this morning, which Kristen asked about earlier, was that the Trump administration left us with no plan. It’s hard for them to both be exactly true at the same time. And our team has been putting together a plan — our own plan, as Dr. Fauci talked about — for some time, to achieve this goal.
But he also mentioned that there are a number of challenges. It’s not just about lining people up — as you all know, but for people watching — in a football stadium, and giving them shots. We have to overcome vaccine hesitancy. We have to get to health communities where there aren’t — they don’t have access to health centers. That was outlined. A number of steps to address that were outlined in the President’s plan today.
But, you know, we — this is a bold goal, we’re going to work every day to achieve it, and we’ll build from there. There’s a lot more of the administration to go from there and more work on COVID to be done.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Jen, President Biden is reversing a number of former President Trump’s policies, and we’re seeing some of former President Trump’s staffers be placed on leave or be reassigned. Is there an attempt to purge Trump officials?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a new administration, so obviously there are a number of new officials in place. I know there was some reporting, for example — and I don’t know if this is who you were referencing, so you tell me if not — of the head of the NLRB. That’s an individual who was not carrying out the — you know, anyone would tell you, not just from our administration — the objectives of the NLRB. And so they were — they’re no longer in their position. And we’ll — we’ll take — make those decisions as needed.
Q So there’s not an effort writ large that you’re assessing — reassessing individuals in the administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kristen, as you know, when a new administration comes in, there’s a massive changeover in political appointees and nominees and people who will serve in a variety of roles.
There are some people — Christopher Wray, as an example; I’ll just bring him back up — who will continue to serve in his role. But we have great value for career officials, for the officials who have been the heart and soul of agencies across government since long before the Trump administration, but who have served through the Trump administration as well.
Q On COVID, a question: Did the transition officials know before yesterday that Amazon wanted to get involved in such a meaningful way?
MS. PSAKI: We — not that I’m aware of. I’m happy to check. I mean, when the reporting came out, I asked the question, and I think — internally — and, you know, what was conveyed to me — and I don’t think we discussed this yesterday — was that we’ve had a lot of outreach — some privately, some publicly — from a range of businesses and private sector entities. And we certainly welcome that, and we’ll be considering all of those offers in what makes the most sense in our plans and proposals.
Q So, because there are some Trump officials saying they were never offered help from Amazon, and so they’re essentially saying they think this was a political call for Amazon to wait while lives were hanging in the balance. But you’re saying that is not the case.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of the timeline of when Amazon reached out. That sounds like a question for Amazon to me.
Q Jen, what did you think about all of the pardons that Trump handed out on his way out the door? And do you know if the DOJ or anyone is reviewing any of those?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we nominated an attorney general just a couple of weeks ago: Merrick Garland. We’re eager to get him confirmed in the coming weeks, hopefully soon.
We — our view on the pardons, Jennifer, is that it’s not the way — it’s not a model for how a Biden Justice Department would work. It’s not a model, I should say, for how President Biden would use his own power. He would use his own power far more judiciously.
But we are looking forward, and most important for us and for him, is that the Justice Department, as we look ahead, is independent, makes decisions of their own accord, including their review of any investigations or judicial steps that have been taken.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Can I do a follow-up?
Q Jen, one follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Okay, I think we’re about to conclude it here. But because it’s my second day, let’s take two more questions. Go ahead, in the back.
Q About the pardon attorneys —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Is the President going to listen to the pardon attorney? President Bush told President Obama that he should use the pardon power early on, but we know that the pardon power has been in disrepute in the last week because of President Trump’s pardons. What — is President Biden going to try to use the power quickly? Or — I mean, you said “judiciously.” But what’s his take going to be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, “judiciously” — and I’m not saying you’re conveying this, but just for clarity — is not meant to convey speed; it’s just meant to convey how he approaches it. As you know, he has a long history on judicial issues, having served as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee many years ago.
But, on day two, I don’t have any prediction for you in terms of how he would use pardon — pardon attorneys or the role, but he has great respect for and value for independence, as you know, and for the role of the judiciary and the independence of that role.
Okay, last actual question. I’m sorry, Zeke.
Q I appreciate it, and I’m going to bounce of Jeff here on conversations that may or may not have happened. Can you tell us: Has President Biden spoken to the Fed Chair, Jay Powell? If he hasn’t, does he have any plans on speaking to him at any point in the near future? And generally speaking, how does the President view the stewardship of the Fed chair during this economic crisis?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out for you or to predict for you with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He clearly has a great deal of respect and value for the Federal Reserve and the role they’ve played historically, given he nominated the former chair to serve as the first female Treasury Secretary. But I don’t have anything more for you. I can venture to get more for you from our economic team.
Thank you, everyone. I’ll see you again tomorrow.
Q Thank you, Jen.
END 5:03 P.M. EST
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